I don't think my kids are perfect. They don't have perfect parents, so they didn't really have a chance in that department. However, one thing that I think they are really good at is gratitude. They are fairly thankful, and content in most ways. That didn't happen by accident, it is something that is very important to Joel and I and something we have spent a lot of time talking about and working on, both for the kids and ourselves! I think everyone starts to think more about gratitude with Thanksgiving coming up-and that is a great time to begin working on habits that are beneficial the whole year 'round. Christmas provides lots of opportunities for practice!
So, what are some of the intentional things that we do to instill an attitude of gratitude in our kids?
1. We model it. Of course, we try to say, "thank you" frequently, and express thankfulness for the blessings that we have. But we also do some things that are a little more subtle. Neither of us believes in lavish celebrations for our own birthdays or other holidays, like our anniversary. We prefer to do those things for other people, but my kids know that for Mother's Day I don't expect flowers, tons of gifts, a spa trip and dinner at an expensive restaurant. I request a limit of one small gift from each child (usually around $10) and sometimes Joel buys me something and sometimes he doesn't. Then we pick up KFC for dinner and usually have a kite-flying picnic in the park. We don't exchange gifts with each other for Valentine's Day, and sometimes we even skip our anniversary. That doesn't mean we don't have fun, and it doesn't mean that we don't make it special, but we try to help them to understand that extravagant amounts of money doesn't equal more happiness. Joel and I are really united on teaching our kids to be grateful.
2. We share. This may seem elementary, but the key is to help your kids understand that you don't just share because you "can't afford it". We actually try to never use that phrase around our kids-first, because I think it scares them, and secondly, it usually isn't true. We tell them the truth: we choose not to afford it. It may be because we don't need it, it may be because we don't want it. But we don't just share for monetary reasons. Often we ask the kids to share because it is good for their character. Yes, we could get them their own cookies, but it teaches them kindness and compromise to choose a cookie together. It also helps to eliminate waste- splitting a fry means that all the food gets eaten. They see their dad and I share regularly, too. And they get to see that we don't count out the chips to make sure the piles are "even". We try to always ask the other person whether they would like the last one. Sharing is good for everyone. I think it helps to avoid the "me" syndrome that is so prevalent in our society and helps kids to recognize that they are not the only ones in their world!
3. We "major in the minors". We make a big deal out of the small things. We don't always stop at Sonic for happy hour-which helps our kids appreciate it more when we do. We try to surprise them by occasionally allowing them to buy something in the Dollar Spot that they have desired for more than just one trip. The other day I bought a dessert. They were so cute, and didn't ask or beg for some, so I wanted to reward them-I let them split over half the piece. They weren't expecting it, so it made it more special.We try to give them little rewards, a piece of candy, a quarter for unexpected things, and often times we "ignore" some of the bigger things. I sometimes think that we start a little too young with "special" things- every Daddy/daughter date doesn't have to be at the most expensive restaurant with flowers at the door and a new dress. Sometimes a quick trip to Sonic for half-price shakes is just as meaningful-and it doesn't raise expectations sky-high. Is it wrong to do things up in a big way? No, but we like to keep our kids guessing. We try to not do "everything" "all the time". Mixing it up helps to keep their expectations manageable.
4. We give back. We don't have a ton of money (seriously, who does?) but we like to do what we can with what we have. Again, we focus on the small things. We bring canned goods to the Awana food drive. We pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. We give to the homeless. And one thing I really stress is giving thank-yous. We try to remember thank-you notes, but I also like to help the kids prepare gifts to give, little ways to show their appreciation with an actual "something". It doesn't have to be huge, and a thank-you note is often plenty, but to make it extra-special, can you include a "little something"? A candle, nicely wrapped candy (even Hershey's kisses are great!), a little framed Scripture or quote, or something *you* would appreciate! My kids love to surprise their teachers (Sunday School, Awana, etc.) with gifts. It is really fun-you might find once you get started that you will start to look for ways to give thank-you gifts more often! Plus, it provides a great opportunity to talk with your kids about why you are thankful for that person.
5. We say it. To each other, to the kids, to everyone. I told Josie from a very young age, "it is never wrong to say, 'thank you'". And we still say that. Can you think of a time when it is inappropriate to express gratitude? It's pretty tough! Saying, "thank-you" is such a small thing, so we often overlook it. Don't neglect to tell your kids, "you're welcome" when they thank you, either. That lets them know that you recognize what they said. We say thank you to people who hold the door, the cashier at Walmart, the nurse at the doctor's office, to someone who drops off a package. We prompt our kids quietly when they may be feeling shy (the guy who draws pictures on the back of the receipt at Costco when he checks it at the door seems especially to strike fear in their hearts), but we don't embarrass them by chiding them loudly. Usually we try to talk about why it is important later, when it is just us.
Most of all, we say it to God.
"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."He is the One from whom "every good and perfect gift" comes (James 3:17). "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV). Who is more deserving of our thanks? We say it in our prayers, we acknowledge it to each other-"this or that blessing is from God", we sing about it. We encourage the kids to memorize Scripture to remind them of it. If you ignore every other thing-this is far and away the most important one, it will enhance every other way that you try to encourage them to be grateful.
Colossians 3:16 (NIV)
So, what do you take away from this (other than that we obviously love Sonic!)? Well, you can't just expect kids to be born with a sense of gratitude. As a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. However, start by being grateful yourself, and be intentional with speaking it and showing it around your kids. Encourage them to show their thanks in small ways. Don't worry, just be consistent, and sooner or later you will find you have grateful kids! And that will definitely make *you* more grateful.
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